How To Use The Past Tense

March 6, 2012

in Technical Writing

English is a difficult language, that’s for sure, and the one area of English writing that tends to confuse people is using tenses. In this post we are going to explore the past tense through 8 common variations of the past tense.

1. Simple Past

This is the easiest form. A sentence describing an event that happened in the past.

“They liked you.”

“They did not like you.”

“Did they like you?”

2. Past Progressive (otherwise known as Past Continuous)

Past-progressive statements and questions describe something that began in the past and continued to occur for a period of time but then stopped.

“They were agreeing with you.”

“They were not agreeing with you.”

“Were they agreeing with you?”

3. Past Perfect

This tense describes something that happened before a point in the past.

“They had been with you.”

“They had not been with you.”

“Had they been with you?”

4. Past Perfect Progressive (otherwise known as Past Perfect Continuous)

Okay, this is where things start to get a little tricky. This tense describes an event that happened in the past and continued to occur, but in the present is no longer happening.

“They had been happy with you.”

“They had not been happy with you.”

“Had they been happy with you?”

5.  Past Habitual

A sentence written in past-habitual tense describes an event that previously happened continuously.

“They used to like me.”

“They used to like us.”

6. Time-Specific Past Habitual

This is a variation of the past-habitual tense with a specific time frame:

“Before, they would disagree with us.”

“Before, they would not disagree with us.”

“Before, would they disagree with us?”

7. Past Intensive

Past-intensive confirms an event as having occurred

“They did disagree with us.”

“They did not disagree with us.”

8. Future in the Past

A future-in-the-past sentence describes an event that was supposed to happen in the past.

“They were going to go with us.”

“They were not going to go with us.”

“Were they going to go with us?”

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica June 20, 2012 at 1:57 am

The lessons were very interesting, but I’m going to continue
searching, until I find something within my level…
Any help is better then nothing; thank you…

Please, tell me where to go, maybe a classroom or a
community center for ESL students. At the moment, I am
in English 10 level, and my writing is in 5. I’m despertly
struggling to do better.


Plasma April 19, 2013 at 12:49 am

Excellent post! learned a lot today.


Brain October 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Still can’t tell the difference between Past Perfect (3) and Past Perfect progressive (4). The examples just seem to add another verb. Does that really change the tense?


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